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B.P.C. GROUPS LOSE TOO
BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER | The Battery Park City Authority has made it official. There will be no more charitable contributions to support neighborhood organizations such as Poets House, the Skyscraper Museum and the Museum of Jewish Heritage. There will be no “sponsorships” for neighborhood organizations. There will be no funding for the annual River To River Festival or for the block party or for the Battery Park City Neighbors’ Association or for the free arts program that is largely funded by Brookfield Office Properties.
The only permissible expenditures will be fees for services such as the $632,000 annually that goes to the Alliance for Downtown New York to pay for the shuttle bus that connects the South Street Seaport with Broadway near City Hall, running through Battery Park City on the way.
Carol Willis, founder and director of The Skyscraper Museum said that she had received a letter from the B.P.C.A. saying that they were discontinuing their funding, which had been $10,000 in previous years, and $7,500 last year.
“That loss is a definite blow,” she said, “especially since it helps to fund activities that are a benefit to our B.P.C.A. neighbors, such as the Saturday morning Family Programs we offer twice a month, which we run for just $5 per child, parents, free.”
Willis also said that the Goldman Sachs Foundation had previously given The Skyscraper Museum $10,000 a year but had eliminated its support two years ago, “citing what they called a bad year. Together, the loss of $20,000 is a serious blow indeed.”
Nancy Harvey, senior counsel at the B.P.C.A. made the announcement at a board of directors meeting on Sept. 24. She said that the discretionary spending policy would apply both to the authority and to the Battery Park City Parks Conservancy, which is legally a separate entity under the B.P.C.A.’s jurisdiction. It appeared to be a reaction to an audit in 2010 by the New York State Inspector General and to Comptroller John Liu’s recent objection to B.P.C.A. excess revenues going to anything other than affordable housing in New York City.
‘It would be best for the B.P.C.A. not to make any contributions to non-governmental organizations.’
Citing documentation from the New York State Public Authorities Control Board, Harvey said the only permissible expenditures would be funds that further the mission for which an organization was established; funds that primarily benefit the organization and do not confer benefit on any employee or private individual or entity; funds that are not extravagant or unreasonable in amount and funds that are not defined as prohibitive expenditures.
She said an audit by the State Inspector General indicated that “it would be best for the B.P.C.A. not to make any contributions to non-governmental organizations.” She said it would be “difficult to decide which organizations to fund, how much money they should get and what the follow-up procedure would be to figure out if the money is being appropriately spent.”
“There will be no charitable contributions. Period. I personally think that’s a good thing,” said Robert Serpico, interim president of the B.P.C.A.
Some of his colleagues were not so sure. Board member Fernando Mateo has always been particularly concerned about making sure that the B.P.C.A. hires women and minorities.
“Just so I understand,” he said, “if there’s a fair promoting minority businesses and Anthony [Peterson, director of the diversity program] needs to go there, we can’t make a contribution to cover our expenses?”
Peterson replied that he would be able to purchase an exhibit at such a fair but that would be all.
“I just want to make sure that you have the funds to be able to continue this,” Mateo said. He was also concerned that the B.P.C.A. might no longer be able to attend privately sponsored job fairs.
The consensus of the board seemed to be that it would be all right to attend such fairs but not to pay for tickets to galas.
In addition to backing away from charitable contributions, Harvey said that the B.P.C.A. would no longer reimburse employees for tuition expenses or for fees to keep professional licenses current.
“The state does not permit these reimbursements to managerial staff,” she said. “They are only permissible under collective bargaining agreements. The B.P.C.A. does not have any employees in that category.”
Serpico said that for the past 30 years, the B.P.C.A. had paid fees related to professional licensing in their entirety. “These would be fees such as those that C.P.A.’s and lawyers have to pay to keep up their professional licenses,” he explained. “These are licenses that are directly tied into and required by the job. If any employee for whatever reason doesn’t want to, or can’t, then they’d have to leave the staff.”
Board member Martha Gallo said she didn’t understand the State’s position on this.
“Neither do I,” said Dennis Mehiel, the authorty’s chairperson. “But I’m not hearing that we have any discretion in this policy.”
Phyllis Taylor, the authority’s chief legal counsel, however, thought there might be some discretion on this matter. Mehiel directed that there be further investigation of this proscription against fee and tuition reimbursement.
However, there was no push for a reprieve for the cultural organizations in Battery Park City. In 2012, Poets House received a $9,500 grant from the B.P.C.A., which will not be forthcoming in 2013.
“Poets House is grateful for the material gifts that Battery Park City Authority has given to us,” said Poets House’s executive director Lee Briccetti. “Foremost,” she said, was “the opportunity to make a permanent home here on the banks of the Hudson.”
However, she went on to say that, “Although B.P.C.A.’s programmatic support was modest, the reality of non-profit organizations, particularly in this climate, is that every gap is felt.”